Synthetic Biology at Plant Biology 2019

Starting with Major Symposium 5 and continuing to Plant Synthetic Biology 2019

Learn about this emerging field at Plant Biology 2019 and the inaugural ASPB-sponsored Plant Synthetic Biology 2019.

Imagine a world in which plants are no longer bred from existing varieties but designed, almost from the ground up, for specific functions – increased crop yield, storing carbon, chemical bio-sensors, drug factories. This is the world of plant synthetic biology, which applies principles of engineering to plants, the bacteria they associate with, and other photosynthetic microbes. The goal is not to simply optimize existing enzymatic pathways in existing organisms, but to eventually develop entirely new enzymes as biological parts that can be mixed and matched to create genetic circuits and novel pathways in optimized hosts for specific functions.

Andrew Hanson from the University of Florida describes synthetic biology as “an earthquake which transforms biology from descriptive into prescriptive, analytical, and synthetic. This is not how we used to do biology, and its not how we’re going to do it for the rest of time.” This emerging field was recently featured in a special issue of Plant Physiology from March as well as an ongoing series of Plantae interviews.

Plant Phys special focus issue on synthetic biology

Plant Biology 2019, Major Symposium 5: The Future of Plant Synthetic Biology

To kick off the focus on synthetic biology at Plant Biology 2019, Dr. Hanson has organized Major Symposium 5, “The Future of Plant Synthetic Biology”, August 7, 2019. This symposium features four speakers who will describe cutting-edge research across the breadth of plant synthetic biology, including new tools and key implications for agriculture.

  • Pamela Silver (Harvard University) will speak on engineering complex genetic circuits in a talk entitled “Designing Sustainable Systems”.
  • June Medford (Colorado State University) will describe her work on synthetic biology and water relations in her talk “Engineering Plants: Predictable Electronic-like Functions to Innovative Desalination”.
  • Tobias Erb (Max Planck Institute) will speak on “Fixing CO2-fixation” and describe how he and his team use synthetic biology to design and realize new enzymes and pathways for carbon fixation that outcompete RubisCO and the CBB cycle in efficiency.
  • Sean Cutler (UC-Riverside) will talk about his lab’s efforts to program new chemically controlled traits in plants, using engineered plant hormone receptors, in a talk entitled “New Tools for Dynamically Maximizing Crop Productivity.

The Plant Synthetic Biology 2019 Conference

Dr. Hanson is also chair of the organizing committee of the inaugural ASPB-sponsored Plant Synthetic Biology 2019 conference, taking place Aug 7–9 in San Jose, California, immediately after Plant Biology 2019. Featuring talks from academia and industry, the conference will present this emerging field as well as the technologies enabling it

Talks from the invited speakers at Plant Synthetic Biology 2019 will cover diverse topics in the area of synthetic biology, including: rationally designing synthetic elements to regulate transcription (Nicola Patron, Earlham Institute UK);  producing high-value secondary metabolites from light-driven enzymes (Poul Erik Jensen, University of Copenhagen);  reconstituting plant alkaloid production in yeast (Vincent Martin, Concordia University); optimizing plants as chemical factories (Patrich Shih, UC Davis); producing flavonoids with bacterial co-cultures (Mattheos Koffas, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute);  engineering microbes to benefit agriculture (Aileen Mastouri, Joyn Bio); building nitrogen fixing bacteria (Karsten Temme, Pivot Bio); delivering DNA into mature plants with nanomaterials (Markita Landry, UC Berkeley).

In addition to the invited speakers, Plant Synthetic Biology 2019 has are several slots for talks chosen from abstracts and poster sessions. To be considered for a short talk at Plant Synthetic Biology 2019, abstracts must be submitted by June 14th, and each speaker will receive a $1,000 travel grant, covering registration and two nights at the conference hotel. The deadline for poster abstracts is July 19th.

Register now for Plant Biology 2019 and Plant Synthetic Biology 2019— early bird registration discounts end on May 1st, and discounts are available for anyone registering for both Plant Biology and Plant Synthetic Biology.

For Plant Biology 2019 updates, join the Plantae Network, follow @ASPB, @ASPBPlantBioMtg, and #plantbio19 on Twitter, and view the program and other details at

For Plant Synthetic Biology 2019 updates, join the Plantae Synthetic Biology Network, follow @plantsynbio2019 and #PlantSynBio19 on Twitter, and view other details at

Dates to Remember

  • May 1, 2019: Early bird registration deadline for Plant Biology 2019 and Plant Synthetic Biology 2019. Register here!
  • June 14, 2019: Deadline for abstract submission to be considered for a 15-minute talk at PlantSynBio19
  • June 21, 2019: Deadline for poster presentations to receive a poster number for Plant Biology 2019
  • July 19, 2019: Deadline for poster presentations to receive a poster number for Plant Synthetic Biology 2019
  • July 26, 2019: Deadline for abstract submissions to be included in the meeting app
  • August 3–7, 2019: Plant Biology 2019 in San Jose, California
  • August 7–9, 2019: Plant Synthetic Biology meeting in San Jose, California

Blog post written for Peridot Scientific Communications.

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